Two Shady Side Academy students joined high school students from Pittsburgh and around the country for a three-week experiential history course that combined a summer school class on the War of 1812 with the experience of sailing the Great Lakes on a 19th-century tall ship.
SSA offered this unique summer program from June 22-July 12 in partnership with the Flagship Niagara, a reproduction of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's flagship in the War of 1812 that is ported in Erie, Pa. Rising SSA juniors Will Dively and Luke Farrell joined the trip, along with SSA history teacher Caswell Nilsen, who taught the course "Sailing the Frontier: U.S. Expansion, Diplomacy and the War of 1812: An experiential course based on the tall ship Niagara." Two other Pittsburgh-area students from Fox Chapel and Taylor Allderdice High Schools also joined the trip,
The original brig Niagara was built for the War of 1812 and fought in one of the most significant battles of the war (and of American history), the Battle of Lake Erie, sometimes called the Battle of Put-in-Bay. Students learned how to live on a 19th-century sailing vessel: climbing the rigging (more than 120 feet from the water line), sleeping below decks in hammocks, learning and working a myriad number of lines, and generally living the life of a tall ship sailor. This experience was combined with the academic component of a political, social and military history of the war.
The trip itinerary included a mock naval battle in Kingston, Ontario, watching Fourth of July fireworks from high up in the rigging, traversing both Lake Erie and Lake Huron, snorkeling a wreck in Alpena, Michigan, and passing through the locks in Sault Ste. Marie into Lake Superior (the Edmund Fitzgerald went down nearby).
Exciting, exhausting, stimulating and wonderful, summer school on the Niagara proved to be a unique, intense and magnificent experience for all.